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Deontay Wilder First Member of Heavyweight Troika to Test the ‘Rule of Three’

Bernard Fernandez

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Wilder

There is a commonly accepted notion that “good things always come in threes.” The so-called “Rule of Three” principle suggests things that come in threes somehow are inherently more humorous, satisfying and effective than any other numerical grouping.

For those who dismiss such a blanket proposition out of hand, consider the following: beloved nursery rhymes (Three Little Pigs), classic literature (the Bronte sisters and Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers), the Bible (Ecclesiastes 4:12 holds that “a cord with three strands is not quickly broken”) and entertainment (what little kid did not love three-ring circuses?). In sports, baseball’s three best centerfielders (Willie, Mickey and The Duke) once all played in the same city, New York, and one of them, Mickey Mantle, won the batting Triple Crown in 1956. Golf’s popularity on television skyrocketed in the 1960s with the emergence of Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player as a “Big Three” whose revered members always seemed to be bunched atop the leader board for the final round of major tournaments.

Boxing’s heavyweight equivalent to Arnie, Jack and Gary arose to prominence in the 1960s and 1970s, with Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier and George Foreman held in higher public esteem than others in the big-man division, and demonstrating why they should have been with their dominating performances in the ring. To be fair, Larry Holmes’ eventual emergence as a great champion expanded the Big Three to a Big Four, but his prime did not intersect as neatly with those of his peers to fully validate his delayed inclusion into that particular era’s golden circle.

There is another saying – what goes around, comes around – that would appear to have merged with the Rule of Three as the heavyweight division again has separated itself into tiers, with undefeated champions Deontay Wilder (40-0-1, 39 KOs), Anthony Joshua (22-0, 21 KOs) and Tyson Fury (27-0-1, 19 KOs) ensconced at a level well above that of a secondary group scrambling for improved position and possible upgrades. The good news is that the current Big Three all have bouts scheduled within a 29-day period, offering fight fans a chance to observe and compare their relative strengths and weaknesses as to which chest-thumping titlist deserves to be widely recognized as the best of the bunch.

The bad news is that this latest elite group of three will not be going head-to-head in any of the matchups, instead engaging seemingly lesser opponents in contests whose outcomes at first glance would appear to be preordained. Should any of the longshots cash a winning ticket, as was the case in the recent Kentucky Derby, when 65-to-1 outsider Country House was declared the winner after an in-race foul kept the wagering favorite, Maximum Security, from having a blanket of roses placed around his neck, the hoped-for round-robin elimination process  involving Wilder, Joshua and Fury will take a major hit.

Wilder, the WBC titlist, gets things started this Saturday night when he takes on his mandatory challenger, former football player Dominic Breazeale (20-1, 18 KOs), in the Showtime-televised main event at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. But while the outrageous Wilder is hyping that fight by suggesting he will literally and gleefully beat Breazeale to death, the result of some sort of personal animosity stemming from an out-of-the-ring confrontation in an Alabama hotel lobby in 2017, his thoughts never seem to stray far from Joshua and Fury, the principal roadblocks in his path to clear recognition as the No. 1 guy. And as everyone familiar with Buster Douglas’ shocker over an underprepared and unmotivated Mike Tyson understands, peering too far ahead into the future instead of concentrating on the present can have dire consequences.

“Hey, Dominic Breazeale asked for this,” Wilder told reporters after a recent workout at Gleason’s Gym in Brooklyn. “I didn’t go seek him, he sought me so if (death) comes, it comes. This is a brutal sport, this is not a gentleman’s sport. I keep saying this is not a gentleman’s sport. I’m still trying to get a body on my record. This is the only sport where you can kill a man and get paid for it at the same time. It’s legal, so why not use my right to do so?”

Such intemperate and inflammatory remarks do not cast Wilder in a positive light, just as the then-19-year-old Mike Tyson, following his brutal, fifth-round knockout of Jesse Ferguson, with a ripping right uppercut, eventually came to regret his comment that “I wanted to drive his nose bone up into his brain.” Oh, and Wilder should be aware by now that fighters who actually did fatally pummel opponents, such as the late Emile Griffith and Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini, were consumed with remorse for the remainder of their careers.

Wilder’s latest vow of violence might be extreme even for him, but he does have a sledgehammer right hand and his knockout ratio of 97.5 percent is highest among all heavyweight champions. But even should Wilder add Breazeale to his list of victims who were unable to go the distance, this supposed grudge match only matters in terms of how far another KO for the lean Alabaman advances the needle concerning a rematch with Fury or a full unification showdown with Joshua.

It took a 12th-round knockdown of Fury, the lineal champion, for Wilder to salvage a split draw in their classic bout of Dec. 1, 2018, which all but screamed for a second pairing to be made sooner rather than later. But Fury chose to sign a co-promotional deal with Top Rank and its broadcast partner ESPN, putting him on the other side of a fence and raising doubts that the much-anticipated do-over would ever take place. And as far as a clear-the-decks meeting involving Wilder and Joshua, each side contends it is the other gumming up the works with protracted negotiations that never seem to reach a resolution amenable to all parties.

“He didn’t want (a rematch), that’s why he’s fighting another guy,” Wilder said of Fury, who takes on German Tom Schwarz (24-0, 16 KOs), who is a household name mainly in his own household, on June 15 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. “He didn’t want that fight, or it would have been happening. I wouldn’t have had to fight my mandatory. I would have went straight to Fury.

“I hurt Tyson Fury very badly. I gave him a concussion. When you got a man who don’t understand how he got on the ground, or how he got up, his brain has been shook. He don’t need that fight again. Hey, if you need a warmup or a tuneup to see if all your marbles are back in place, go do that. Take as many warmups you need. (Fury) said he’s got three more fights and he’s out of here. If one of those fights is me, I’m gonna finish him. I’m gonna finish the job.”

And Joshua, the super heavyweight gold medalist for the United Kingdom at the 2012 London Olympics? The big Briton makes his American debut on June 1 at Madison Square Garden against pudgy Mexican-American Andy Ruiz Jr. (32-1, 21 KOs), who will be filling in for Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller, who failed three drug tests in quick succession and was obliged to relinquish his slot.

“With Joshua, for four months we tried (to reach a contractual accord),” Wilder said. “But it don’t matter. I’m more exciting than (Fury and Joshua). Those guys don’t bring excitement like I bring. Tyson Fury is the most boring one. I just do what I do best, and it’s to knock guys silly. I’m not in competition with none of them.”

But for any member of the Big Three to claim superiority over the others without competing against them is misleading at best, and fraudulent at worst. These are fights that require no further marinating, and even the party crashers they are likely to dispatch in the immediate future are like appetizers that shouldn’t satisfy fight fans’ hunger, or their own.

Nibbling on the hors d’oeuvres for now will have to do, but the doors to the banquet hall remain closed. Until that changes, the Big Three heavyweights are like solitary occupants of their own little islands, wondering, like the rest of us, who deserves to rule the archipelago.

Bernard Fernandez is the retired boxing writer for the Philadelphia Daily News. He is a five-term former president of the Boxing Writers Association of America, an inductee into the Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Atlantic City Boxing Halls of Fame and the recipient of the Nat Fleischer Award for Excellence in Boxing Journalism and the Barney Nagler Award for Long and Meritorious Service to Boxing.

Photo credit: Amanda Westcott / SHOWTIME

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 82: Jason Quigley Returns to SoCal and More

David A. Avila

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Southern California prizefighting heats up with Jason Quigley headlining a fight card in Orange County and then, two days later, another fight card takes place in the heart of Los Angeles.

Ireland’s Quigley (17-1, 13 KOs) faces Mexico’s Fernando Marin (16-4-3, 12 KOs) on Thursday Jan. 23, at the OC Hangar in Costa Mesa, Calif. DAZN will stream the Golden Boy Promotions fight card live.

Quigley, 28, seeks to reclaim territory lost when he suffered a defeat last July against Tureano Johnson. Ironically, Marin would lose 10 days later in Hollywood to super welterweight contender Serhii Bohachuk.

For several years Quigley had trained in Southern California but decided to change trainers and location. He moved to Great Britain and still prepares near his native country but primarily fights in the U.S.

At one time Quigley clamored for a match against Gennady “GGG” Golovkin or Saul “Canelo” Alvarez but now finds himself trying to prove he belongs in the upper tier of the middleweight division. It’s loaded with talent.

Also on the same fight card will be popular North Hollywood super welterweight Ferdinand Kerobyan who was headed to contender status when he ran into Blair “the Flair” Cobbs. At the time Cobbs was an unknown quantity but no longer.

Kerobyan (13-1, 8 KOs) meets Azael Cosio (21-8-2) in an eight-round clash in the semi-main event at OC Hangar. Doors open at 5 p.m.

Red Boxing International

On Saturday Jan. 27, Red Boxing International hosts its first boxing card of the year at Leonardo’s Night Club located at 6617 Wilson Ave. L.A. 90001. Doors open at 5 p.m.

Super welterweight Bryan Flores (13-1, 6 KOs) meets Brandon Baue (15-17) in the main event  in the first event of the year for the ambitious promotion company. For the past two years Flores fought primarily in Tijuana, Mexico where he racked up six wins. Now he’s back on Southern California soil.

Another match features lightweights Angel Israel Rodriguez (5-0) facing off against Braulio Avila (3-6) in a six-round fight.

Rodriguez fights out of Pico Rivera, Calif. but recently fought in Costa Rica where he won by first round knockout in November. He will be fighting Avila who just fought two weeks ago at the Chumash Casino in Santa Ynez, Calif.

It’s a long fight card with 11 bouts on the schedule.

JRock and Rosario

Boxing fans received another lesson on never underestimating a ranked contender regardless of the name recognition.

Jeison Rosario knocked out Julian “J Rock” Williams who was making the first defense of the WBA and IBF super welterweight world titles he won last year in my selection as “Fight of the Year.”

Rosario walked in with little recognition and was thought to be a soggy piece of bread for Williams. The long armed Dominican fighter walloped Williams in front of his hometown fans in Philadelphia. It was yet another warning for fans to understand that anyone who steps in the boxing ring ranked as a contender can do the unthinkable. In this case Rosario knocked out the champion in five rounds.

Many felt Williams was far too skilled, especially on the inside where he showcased those skills last May against former titlist Jarret Hurd. It was a remarkable display of the art of inside fighting. But against Rosario, he never got a chance to exhibit those skills.

The loaded super welterweight division has another dangerous champion in Rosario.

Fights to Watch

Thurs. 6 p.m. DAZN – Jason Quigley (17-1) vs Fernando Marin (16-4-3).

Sat. 6 p.m. Showtime – Danny Garcia (35-2) vs Ivan Redkach (23-4-1).

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Recalling Three Big Fights in Miami, the Site of Super Bowl LIV

Arne K. Lang

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The San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs collide on Feb. 2 in Miami in Super Bowl LIV (54) in what will assuredly be the biggest betting event to ever play out on American soil. It’s the 10th Super Bowl for the South Florida metropolis which ties it with New Orleans as the most frequent destination for football’s premier attraction.

With its heavily Latin population, Miami would seem to be natural for big fights. However, this hasn’t been the case. Several great champions fought here, including Roberto Duran who twice defended his world lightweight title in these parts, but these weren’t big fights. In the case of Duran, his opponents were lightly regarded and the Panamanian legend was still three years away from his first encounter with Sugar Ray Leonard, a match that increased his name recognition a hundred-fold.

There were, however, three fights in Miami that summoned the interest of virtually all of America’s A-list sportswriters. Here they are in reverse chronological order.

Aaron Pryor vs. Alexis Arguello (Nov. 12, 1982)

Alexis Arguello (72-5) was bidding to become boxing’s first four-division champion. In his way stood WBA junior welterweight title-holder Aaron Pryor (31-0, 29 KOs), a man now widely regarded as the best 140-pound boxer of all time.

Arguello, a Miami resident, having been exiled from his Nicaraguan homeland by the Sandanista rebel occupation, was a textbook boxer who defeated his opponents with surgical efficiency. Pryor was a typhoon. He mowed down his opponents with relentless pressure. It was a great style match-up and it didn’t disappoint. Contested before nearly 30,000 at Miami’s iconic Orange Bowl, Pryor vs. Arguello was a fight for the ages.

“There was power, finesse, poise, courage and a tremendous ebb and flow,” said Associated Press writer Ed Schuyler who dubbed it Manila in Miniature. In the ninth, 11th, and particularly the 13th rounds, Arguello hit Pryor with straight right hands that would have felled an ordinary fighter, but Pryor had an iron chin.

In the 14th, Pryor buckled Arguello’s knees with a straight right hand and then unloaded a furious combination as Arguello fell back against the ropes. He was out on feet when referee Stanley Cristodoulou intervened and he would lay prone on the canvas for several minutes before he could be removed to his dressing room.

Sonny Liston vs. Muhammad Ali (Feb. 25, 1964)

If you happen to find a poster for this fight with the name Muhammad Ali on it, don’t buy it. It’s bogus. Liston met up with Muhammad Ali in their second fight. In their first encounter, Liston opposed Cassius Clay.

Clay’s Louisville sponsors, after a brief flirtation with Archie Moore, settled on Angelo Dundee as his trainer. Angelo operated out of his brother Chris Dundee’s gym located at the corner of 5th Street and Washington Avenue in Miami Beach. The fighter who took the name Muhammad Ali trained here and kept a home in Miami for most of his first six years as a pro.

Clay/Ali was 22 years old and had only 19 fights under his belt when he was thrust against heavyweight champion Sonny Liston at the Miami Beach Convention Center. Liston was riding a 28-fight winning streak after back-to-back first-round blowouts of Floyd Patterson.

In a UPI survey, 43 of 46 boxing writers picked Liston. “Clay has no more chance of stopping Liston than the old red barn had of impeding a tornado,” wrote Nat Fleischer, the publisher of The Ring magazine.

This would be the first of many famous fights for Muhammad Ali who emerged victorious when Liston quit after the sixth frame citing an injured shoulder. What is not widely known, however, is that the fight, which was shown on closed-circuit in the U.S. and Canada, was a bust at the gate. The 16,448-seat Convention Center was only half full.

The expectation that Liston would take the lippy kid out in a hurry depressed sales, as did sky-high ticket prices ($250 tops when $100 was the norm). And there may have been more subtle factors. “This may not be the best place for a fight between two Negroes,” wrote Robert Lipsyte of the New York Times, cognizant that people of color were not welcome as guests at the ritzy beachfront hotels along Collins Avenue.

Jack Sharkey vs. W. L. (Young) Stribling (Feb. 27, 1929)

A big fight, as I define it, doesn’t have to be a blockbuster. An important fight that produces an upset automatically becomes a bigger fight in hindsight. The Sharkey-Stribling fight of 1929 didn’t draw an immense crowd by Jack Dempsey standards, but the turnout, reportedly 35,000, far exceeded expectations and the fight – which preceded Miami’s first Orange Bowl football game by six years — really established Miami as a potentially good place for a big sporting event.

Promoted by the Madison Square Garden Corporation, the bout was originally headed to a dog racing track but it quickly became obvious that a larger venue was needed. A stadium was erected on a Miami Beach polo field, taking the name Flamingo Park (not to be confused with the thoroughbred track of the same name).

Slated for 10 rounds, the bout was conceived as one of two “eliminators” to find a successor to Gene Tunney who had retired. What gave the fight it’s primary allure, however, was the North-South angle. Sharkey, born Joseph Zukauskas, hailed from Boston. Stribling, born into a family that traveled the fair circuit with a variety act, was from Macon, Georgia.

The fight, which aired on the NBC radio network, was a dud, a drab affair won by Sharkey who had the best of it in virtually every round. Both went on to fight Max Schmeling for the world heavyweight title. Stribling, dubbed the “King of the Canebrakes” by Damon Runyon, lost by TKO in fight that was stopped late in the 15th round. Sharkey took the title from Schmeling on a split decision after losing their first meeting on a foul.

Young Stribling died in a motorcycle crash at age 28, by which time he had engaged in 251 documented bouts, the great majority of which were set-ups. Jack Sharkey lived to be 91.

—-

The strong earnings of the Sharkey-Stribling bout inevitably drew the Madison Square Garden Corporation back to Miami for an encore. On Feb. 27, 1930, Jack Sharkey opposed England’s “Fainting” Phil Scott. Four years later, on March 1, 1834, Primo Carnera defended his world heavyweight title here against former light heavyweight champion Tommy Loughran, the Philadelphia Phantom.

Both bouts were big money losers, as were the great majority of major fights during this period. Eight months after the Sharkey-Stribling cash cow, the stock market crashed, plunging the United States into the Great Depression. Few Americans could afford to vacation in Florida, let alone travel anywhere for a big fight.

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Star Power: Ryan Garcia and Oscar De La Hoya at West L.A. Gym

David A. Avila

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Under gray skies and very cool temperatures Ryan Garcia arrived with his father and a couple of others at the Westside Boxing Gym on Monday.

Waiting anxiously were about 100 people comprised of mostly videographers and photographers who had already surrounded Oscar De La Hoya who arrived earlier.

Golden Boy greets the Flash.

Garcia (19-0, 16 KOs) has a fight coming soon against Nicaragua’s Francisco Fonseca (25-2-2, 19 KOs) on Friday Feb. 14, at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif. The Golden Boy Promotions show will be streamed by DAZN.

“I’m ready for this fight,” Garcia said quickly.

Some say it has been a rather quick road for the fighter from Victorville known as the Flash. But if you ask Garcia, it has been too slow.

“I think he (Garcia) will be world champion this year,” said De La Hoya, CEO of Golden Boy Promotions.

Years ago, De La Hoya arrived with the same hoopla but his travel to the top seemed even faster. By his fifth pro fight he was matched with Jeff Mayweather. Yes, those Mayweathers. At the time Mayweather had fought 27 professional fights and had only two losses. De La Hoya stopped him in four.

In his eighth pro fight De La Hoya met Troy Dorsey, a tough Texan who had formerly held the IBF featherweight world title and who would later win a super featherweight world title. De La Hoya stopped him in one round.

Two years after winning the Olympic gold medal in Barcelona, the Golden Boy met WBO world titlist Jimmi Bredahl at the Olympic Auditorium and after dropping him several times finally stopped him in the 10th round. It was De La Hoya’s first world title and he was 21 years old.

Garcia is now 21 and ready to test the loaded lightweight division waters. For a while he was fighting at super featherweight, a division loaded with talent. But lightweights are the Maginot Line when it comes to boxing’s big hitters. Everybody can punch in the 135-pound limit lightweight division.

When Garcia met Romero Duno last November in Las Vegas many expected the speedy Victorville fighter to get his come-uppance. Instead the lanky slugger lit up the strong Filipino fighter and dropped him into the ether world.

It was mesmerizing stuff.

Now he’s back with a load of credibility after shutting down detractors with his devastating knockout win over Duno. It wasn’t supposed to be that easy. Just like it wasn’t supposed to be that easy when De La Hoya raced by world champions like Secretariat did in the Kentucky Derby decades ago. It’s not supposed to be that easy, but for some it truly is.

Garcia seems to be headed for a journey so remarkable that he has other world champions like WBC titlist Devin Haney eyeing him for their next challenges. It barely results in a yawn for the fighter who will be facing a very credible foe in Fonseca next month.

“I’m not even the champion and he’s calling me out,” said Garcia with a whatever kind of look.

Other fighters and promoters can see what Garcia represents and want to get a slice of it too. Its intangible yet most of the boxing world can sense something is coming and Garcia might be part of it.

That’s called star power and it’s difficult to explain. Some have it, many want it and others have no chance of ever attaining it.

Time will tell how far Garcia’s star power will venture.

One man lived that life and, in a sense, still lives that life and that is De La Hoya. Even he senses a déjà vu moment with Garcia.

“It’s why we made him one of the richest young prospects in boxing today,” De La Hoya said.

Expect several thousand ardent fans of Garcia to fill the seats on Valentine’s Day. How else can you explain it but, star power.

Photo credit: Al Applerose

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